Salvaging a mediocre photo

Last month I went out to take some photos of an oak tree nearby, but I was not very happy with the results. Yesterday I got inspired to go through and try to do some post processing on them. I felt like the last photo of the day actually had some potential and in the end I was very happy with the result.

Oak tree

HOW IT WAS DONE
I started out in Lightroom with some regular tone adjustments, and then I worked with the White Balance. I decided to bring it up quite dramatically in order to emphasize the orange color of the sky. Next I decided to brighten up the ground so I used a Graduated Filter and brought up the Exposure. It started looking pretty nice but I didn’t like how my White Balance adjustments had also given the ground an orange tint so I decided to bring the image into Photoshop to work on it with more control.

In Photoshop I separated the image into two layers, one above the horizon line and one under (the “ground” layer). I used Color Balance and Hue/Saturation adjustments on the ground layer to get the color the way I wanted, then I brightened it up even more with Brightness/Contrast and Levels adjustments.  Then I decided that I had actually made the sky too orange and even worse, I had lost all of the blue. So I “cheated” a little: I used the Gradient Tool going from a nice blue color to transparent and I let that “sky” layer have it! Even though the tree itself was on the same layer it was not visibly affected since it was completely dark anyway.

I finished up the job by bringing the photo back into Lightroom, sharpening it, and adding a nice vignette.

The lesson to be learned here is not only that mediocre photos can be salvaged with the right tools, but also that maybe some of those photos aren’t so mediocre after all. My oak tree had a simple, but very nice composition so really, the only thing wrong was with the exposure and colors. Since I always shoot in RAW there was a lot I could do in post-processing. That mediocre photo is now the top viewed, liked, and commented on photo in my 500px account.